The International Air Dilemma

The International Air Dilemma
Air conditioning is one of those modern conveniences people tend to take for granted.  With the simple push of a button or turn of a thermostat you could change your hot and hellish environment to cool and comfortable in a matter of minutes.  Having an air conditioner in your home used to be considered a privilege, but now buildings without air conditioning are rare to find.

In some developing nations the climate is brutal.  The triple digit heat combined with the oppressive humidity can make people miserable, that’s why so many people spend their time and money looking for an AC unit to combat the weather.  It’s estimated that air conditioner sales in China and India increase by 20% each year, and some scientists are worried about how the high demand for air conditioners could affect the environment.

The CFC Quandary
In order to understand why scientists are worried about the high number air conditioners you must take into account the way air conditioning impacts the environment.  Chlorofluorocarbon (more commonly known as CFC) is an organic compound that’s only made up of carbon, chlorine, hydrogen, and fluorine, but that simple compound plays a big role in the modern world.  CFCs are commonly used for cooling purposes, but the compound can also be used as a solvent or propellant.  Despite the compound’s beneficial nature some people are opposed to using CFCs because of the effect it has on the ozone layer.

The Montreal Protocol stated that CFCs should be slowly phased out of use because of the compound’s damaging effect on the ozone layer.  And ever since the protocol went into effect in January of 1989 people have been fiercely debating the ethical implications of using the compound.  The oldest and most damaging CFC coolants are mainly no longer in use, but the CFCs currently in use still pose a large threat to the environment.

CFCs are a greenhouse gas, and some people believe that the gas causes more environmental problems than CO2.  CFCs have the ability to both absorb and emit radiation, and in turn that makes the greenhouse effect the compound causes extremely powerful.  When people learned about the damaging effects of CFCs they switched to using hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HCFC).  HCFCs are less harmful to the ozone layer, but it’s still a very strong greenhouse gas that’s managed to cause problems of its own.

Chemical Crossroads
By now scientists believed that the atmospheric concentration of CFCs and HCFCs would have drastically fallen but instead they’ve increased, especially in the areas where air conditioning use and sales have increased.  A study that appeared in the February 2012 issue of Science contained a startling study about the increasing numbers of air conditioners abroad.  The study calculated that if all the equipment entering the world market uses the most modern and safe cooling gases, they would still be responsible for 27% of all global warming by 2050.  That 27% won’t be only be caused by CFC and HCFC use, the electricity needed to run air conditioners also will help add to pollution levels.

CFC use and dependence has caused a unique environmental ethical dilemma.  You can find CFCs that do little harm to the ozone layer, but you’d be trading off ozone depletion for intense greenhouse gas pollution.  The US has recently started using a coolant called 410a that causes no harm to the ozone layer, but its warming effect is 2,100 times that of CO2.   Ozone friendly and greenhouse pollution free coolant gases have yet to be invented, but the demand for air conditioners and other CFC dependent appliances is still high.

Jennifer De Shields is part of an elite team of writers that has posted to an array of news and article sites.  After studying journalism and environmental studies in college, she went on to write about current events and environmental issues.